Friday, June 5, 2015

The King's Speech (Best Picture 2010)

The King's Speech is the dramatic story of the Duke of York, Prince Albert, and how he overcame his debilitating stutter. It is based on the true story of England's King George VI and his speech therapist and friend, Lionel Logue.

As the second son of King George V of England, Prince Albert had no expectations to ever become king. However, as a member of the royal family he was still expected to make public appearances, and therefore public speeches. And from 1925, he was also expected to speak, live, on the radio. Unfortunately for hm, he had a terrible stutter that only got worse when he was nervous. As the film begins he is experimenting with various speech therapists in an attempt to learn to speak better. His wife, Elizabeth, hears of a gifted Australian, so she goes on her own to meet him. Logue insists that the Prince himself comes to his shabby office. Elizabeth convinces him to visit, and then Logue insists on no formalities between them; he even calls the Prince "Bertie." After talking for only a few minutes Logue tells Prince Albert that he thinks he can help, but Bertie thinks Logue is a quack. Logue records Bertie reading from Hamlet, but before he starts he puts ear-phones on Bertie and plays classical music so the Prince cannot hear his own voice. Bertie speaks for a few moments, then clearly exasperated, walks out. Logue gives him the album as he leaves, unimpressed.

Later, King George V pressures Albert to overcome his speech impediment, embarrassing him and frustrating him. In a moment of rage Albert plays the recording that Logue made, intending to smash it to pieces. However, he and Elizabeth are shocked to hear that on the recording Albert is not stuttering at all. The next day, they start visiting Logue regularly. What follows is a fun montage of scenes of the Duke of York doing all sorts of practical exercises, with Logue and sometimes with Elizabeth. There is also a humourous scene where the Prince curses loudly, as evidently you don't stutter when you say curse words. This is the reason for the "R" rating, by the way.

As Albert gets better at speaking, his father gets sick and then dies. There is a lot of royal concern as Albert's older brother becomes King Edward VIII. However, he is not really cut out to be King, more of a social butterfly. Prince Albert, for example, is already married with two daughters, but King Edward is still a bachelor. And he is in love with a divorced American woman. As the head of the Church of England, it is impossible for Edward to marry her. After less than a year into his reign, Edward decides to abdicate. This makes a very unwilling Prince Albert into King George V.

During this time there are more scenes of Albert and his royal circle than with Logue. This is partly because Bertie is so involved in the domestic crisis, and partly because the two men have a falling out. In a painful scene, Logue tries to give the Duke of York advice about how to be a good King, but Prince Albert angrily shouts at him that any advice about becoming King was treasonal. Albert at this point is desperately hoping that his brother will not abdicate, so he does not want to hear anything positive about becoming King. Logue understands that there is a huge amount of stress on Bertie, and tries to apologize for speaking his mind too candidly, but the Prince refuses to see him.

After the crisis has played out, and Prince Albert has in fact become King George, he and Elizabeth visit the Logues at their home in order to apologize. Logue, likewise, apologizes for upsetting him. The King, for his part, is genuinely touched when he realizes that Logue never told his wife that he was seeing the Prince as a patient.

Reconnected, the two men work towards the King's first important public appearance: his coronation. The King brings Logue out into public, introducing him to his circle of advisors when he meets the King at Westminster Abbey to help him rehearse. The Bishop and the other royal advisors clearly resent Logue. The next day, the King confronts Logue with his lack of medical credentials. Logue admits that he is not a medical doctor, but gently reminds the King that he never claimed to be a doctor. Logue explains that he found he was good at speech therapy after succeeding at helping shell-shocked veterans in Australia. The King, having lost confidence in Logue, questions their success together. In one of the most emotionally satisfying scenes of the film, Logue meets the King's concerns with rudeness. The King, angry, shouts at Logue brusquely, loudly, and without a trace of a stutter. As soon as he does so, he realizes what Logue has done. The two men share a smile, and the King finally realizes just how much he has gained from his friend. He silences the Bishop, and has Logue and his wife attend the coronation as family guests.

The last part of the film involves the inevitable incline towards war with Germany. When Germany invades Poland, Great Britain has no choice but to declare war. The King is asked to make a special speech to the nation. He agonizes over it, but with Logue at his side he triumphantly reads it, live, to millions of listeners. The film ends with the royal family basking in the love and respect of their countrymen, and Logue standing in the background, basking in the friendship of the King and Queen.

This is a great film, dealing not only with the historical drama of a man reluctantly becoming King, but also as a study in friendship. As the story unfolds it becomes obvious that for all his position and (presumed) riches, Prince Albert has absolutely no friends. Brought up as the second son, he was bullied by his older brother and their nanny and all but ignored by his parents. There a quite a few nice moments between him and his daughters where you can just tell that he is trying to be a better father than the King was to him. Likewise, as an adult he is overlooked or strong-armed by the royal advisors, cajoled into making decisions that he might otherwise not make. That is why, during the rehearsal for the coronation, it is so powerful when he clearly shouts, "I have a voice!" And why Logue's calm response, "Of course you do" validates and strengthens Bertie's position. Bertie finally sees that in some regards, Logue is the only man truly on his side.

I am not a student of British history, but the story flows well from event to event and seems of course, it's been cleaned up. I did a little bit of research on this story after seeing the film, even reading the book by Logue's grand-child, Mark Logue, The King's Speech. I found out that certain events were moved around chronologically to better heighten the drama, but the basic story was true. Logue was on-call for the King for the rest of their lives. They did indeed become friends, exchanging letters and Christmas cards. Logue probably did not call His Majesty "Bertie," though.

Besides the great story and wonderful sets and costumes, the cast is wonderful. Colin Firth as King George VI holds the film together as the loving father and husband who has been beaten-down to believe he is either stupid or lazy. His gradual change from a mousy, shy man into a more dynamic, strong-willed King is incredible to watch. It is said that the most common fear is to stand in front of people and make a speech. Having done it, I cannot imagine having to do it with a stutter. The King's bravery comes through clearly throughout the film in subtle but distinct ways, such as in his eyes, by his hands shaking, or by his feet moving. Firth gives a fantastic performance, totally deserving his Best Actor Award.

Likewise, Geoffrey Rush is sublime as the wacky Australian who is secretly the King's best friend. It is clear that Logue respects the King, but he forces himself to do what is right for his student, protocol be damned. You totally believe that Logue was a dedicated actor and orator who genuinely wanted to help people, including the King. He is especially adorable when his wife comes home and meets the King and Queen. He had not told her about his special patient, and is embarrassed for his wife for putting her in such an embarrassing situation.

Lastly, Helena Bonham Carter is wonderful as Queen Elizabeth. From the earliest scenes, where she has to figure out how to ride in an elevator all by herself, or where she shows stoic support for her husband as he stumbles through speeches, she is a joy to watch. In later scenes, where she beams with pride as Bertie's efforts (and Logue's) begin to pay off, even though she is not the center of attention she still commands your attention. If the real Queen Mother was actually like this, I can totally understand why England was in love with her.

The King's Speech was nominated for twelve Academy Awards and won four: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Screenplay. Rush and Carter were both nominated, but lost to Christian Bale and Melissa Leo, both from The Fighter.

If you are a fan of historical dramas and of watching men overcoming obstacles, you will enjoy this film.

The King's Speech
*Academy Award Best Picture of 2010*
Produced by Iain Canning, Emile Sherman, and Gareth Unwin
Directed by Tom Hooper
Screenplay by Tom Hooper

See this film.

As a special bonus, here is King George's actual Coronation Address
from May 12, 1937 with images from the Coronation procession. 

Also Nominated:
(in alphabetical order)
Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
127 Hours
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter's Bone
There were too many nominees again this year. My wife saw Black Swan and liked it, but I chose to see something else....I don't remember what. Natalie Portman won Best Actress for her role in this film. The Fighter features Mark Wahlberg as a boxer; it won both Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress awards. Inception is the Christopher Nolan drama about dream thieves starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The Kids Are All Right features Annette Benning and Julienne Moore as lovers who are upset by the arrival of Mark Ruffalo, their children's father. 127 Hours is the film based-on-a-true-story of a rock climber stuck for that amount of time. James Franco was nominated for Best Actor for his singular work. The Social Network tells the story of the founding of Facebook. Toy Story 3 is the cartoon film for adults. True Grit is the remake of the John Wayne classic by the Coen Brothers. And Winter's Bone I never even heard of. A newcomer named Jennifer Lawrence was nominated for Best Actress for her role in it, but did not win.

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